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Happy Cinco de Mayo from Fermilab, and huevos rancheros for one (with plenty of leftovers of beans and rice)!

PF's Huevos Rancheros

Tomorrow, the packed detector parts are supposed to show up in a shipping truck. Once they are here, it will be a long time before I get a moment's peace again. Fun times are going to be here soon.
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As the last of the series approaches, and since I'm avoiding working on my school work for the time being (I do hope to finish one class' work tonight regardless... I had some rather vexing computer problems earlier that I have at least come to grips with, if not resolved), I thought I would write about the most recent wine tasting as part of the summer-long CKCU fundraiser. This time around, it was Chardonnay (previous tastings, one per month, were Reisling and Gamay). As a reminder (more details are in my previous posts that I have liked to in the last sentence), the tastings are part of a fundraiser for CKCU and are conducted by internationally recognized wine taster, writer, and academic Rod Phillips.

We started with Chardonnay, which he said got a bad rap because... well, it kind of deserved it a couple of decades ago. In particular, many wineries heavily oaked their Chardonnay to add flavour to cheaply made wine and, as such, there was a lot of plonk on the market (ha ha ha ha, I had to link to the Wikipedia article of that name because of the photo and its caption at the top, lol). I kind of grew up during the 80s and early 90s (at least with respect to drinking age) and certainly learned to avoid Chardonnay wines. Honestly, I don't really know plonk from nectar of the gods, but I can certainly tell when I don't enjoy something, and Chardonnay (if you will pardon the pun) left a bad taste in my mouth. Rod was clear that we have come a long way since then and those still making Chardonnay have scaled way back on the over-oaking and have learned to create balanced flavours in their wines, so it's time to consider them again. He said that Chardonnay is a "balanced" grape, that some call "neutral" in flavour (not too acidic, not too sweet, not too fruity, not to... etc.). In specific, he said "chardonnay is a winemaker's dream because it is neutral and shows off the winemaker's skill"... conversely, I guess it kind of shouts out any lack of skill ;). It grows just about everywhere, but in warm climates it gets too mellow when ripe so the winemaker often needs to add tartaric acid to give it a crisper flavour. In cool climates like Ontario, the winemaker sometimes (depending on the year or region) needs to add sugar. He also mentioned Zinfandel wine which ferments to produce a product with too much alcohol, acid, and sugar... so they add water to it to balance it and it has thus earned the wine-industry title of "Jesus Juice" (they can turn H2O to wine, heh). One last factoid I wrote down was that the barrels used for wine cost around $1000 each and that they are good for 3 to 4 years of production. I inquired about Ontario's Forty Creek Distillery and their "Double Barrel Reserve", and he did indicate that used wine barrels are sometimes purchased by distillers because they add interesting flavour to whiskey and other hard liquors.

So, back to the tasting... we started with Peninsula Ridge's "Inox" (2011, Niagara Peninsula), which was completely unoaked (made in stainless steel.. thus the name "Inox", from "inoxidable" which is French for unoxidizable, and is used to describe stainless steel in French). I found it a bit acidic and it had something of a citrus taste to it, and smelled of fruit like apple or pear. It was, as you might expect, a very clean tasting wine. From there we went to Rosehall Run's "Liberated" (2011, Prince Edward County). This one was oaked, but only lightly. It had a honey-like scent and a had a wonderful long finish (very yum!). We then tried the Cave Spring Chardonnay (2011, Niagara Escarpment). It had been aged for 9 to 10 months in oak and I found it to be acidic and somewhat "zingy" and spicy, but a little bitter despite having some sugar left in it. It did have a nice caramel aftertaste for a long while after having it. Rod indicated that some Chardonnays (I think the Cave Spring, but my notes are a bit jumbled, so don't quote me on it) use a mix (80/20 in this case) of chardonnay grapes and chardonnay musqué grapes (a clone of chardonnay) to give it a greater depth of flavour. Lastly, we had Château des Charmes' "Barrel Fermented Chardonnay" (2010, Niagara-on-the-Lake). It had a flowery smell and a hint of, to me, isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol smell. It was quite sweet and had an almost red wine finish. It had a "softer texture" to its flavour (that Rod said is called "round"), and really filled the mouth. It was definitely too much without having a nibbly plate to have with it (we were provided with plates of local artisanal bread to go with it for all the tastings, it was sooooo good!).

I know way more about wine than I did before starting the tasting series, but more than nothing is still not very much. One of the things I like most about Rod is that he's definitely no bullshit: the cost of the wine doesn't really determine quality, and everyone has different likes and dislikes. Drink what you like and "to hell with wine snobs" is his advice. He did say that there is something of a price point above $30-$40 per bottle where winemakers can afford to put more care into their ingredients and process that they can't when they have to hit a $10-$20 price point, but above that, it's kind of hit or miss even with expensive wines. If nothing else, I feel less intimidated by wine and that's a good thing I guess. He has also given me a much better appreciation for Ontario wines, and that's kind of cool as well.

Up next (and last) this month: Cabernet Franc.
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It's all fun and games until you break out the Ruthenium-106 (106Ru)... then it's a party. Okay, maybe not so much. 3.56MeV electrons anyone? It's all about radiation badges and locked rooms and Geiger-Muller counters these days. It also means that what was once a student office is again a fully commissioned laboratory and there will be no more eating and drinking there. Meh... it's still pretty cool to be using all this stuff :).

The pixel "telescope" is set up and working (minus a couple of irksome software bugs, but that's not too surprising, we'll eventually sort those out), and we've figured out how to run the data acquisition and analysis software chains (not that we have fully grasped any of what it's doing under the hood, but at least we can operate it). I'm still setting up the cooling system (it's a bit trickier than I had anticipated because of the flow issues through so many tiny channels, but I'll sort that out as well), and will be mounting the chiller on the wall so it doesn't have to fight gravity. It's not needed to run the detector (it doesn't need to be cooled to keep from overheating), but rather is used to stabilize the temperature sufficiently below room temperature so it's constant between data taking runs (somewhere around 10°C to 15°C or so, we have yet to decide exactly and probably won't until some more testing is complete). The photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) to use as triggers arrived a couple of weeks ago, but we had to wait until last week for the connectors needed to hook them up to the Trigger Logic Unit (TLU) and I'm waiting for the work to be done by the department electronics guru (he'll be able to do the job properly in a few hours where it would take me a couple of days since I haven't worked with these sort of connector before and he has). We also need to modify the TLU since the PMTs we had to get are aren't the ones the TLU was designed for because the ones it was made for are no longer being made by Hamamatsu... that won't be a huge job and I can do it myself if need be (I've already figured out what exactly needs to be done, it's just a matter of replacing a few parts). Once the PMTs and TLU are ready, I will try to affix some scintillating plastic detectors to the PMTs (and light-tight the assembly) so we can use them as triggers for our testing with the... 106Ru source (see what I did there?). In about two weeks we should have the custom plates back (that I designed) that will allow us to turn the telescope on its end so we can use cosmic ray muons which are mostly between around 1GeV and 5GeV and come pretty much straight down from space (well, they have a cos2θ angular distribution if you are concerned about such things, and a sadly low flux of roughly 1 muon min-1 cm2 steradian-1).

It is rumoured that I will be doing my undergraduate honours project on the calibration, alignment, and general characterization of the telescope this coming year (and maybe even assist somewhat with the work being done at Carleton on the next generation Atlas experiment muon detectors at the Large Hadron Collider, or even Higgs-related data analysis... we shall see). Given the problems I've had with the physics department in the past, I'll believe it when I see it, but there's been a changing of the guard so it's possible this time around. If it does come through, I'll have to drop a couple of the courses I've already signed up for to make space for it. I have started studying this month for the computational physics course I'll be taking with a couple of former classmates this coming year as well. It's a very difficult course because it's the first time we see real statistical analysis and the ROOT framework. It's crosslisted as a Master's level course, but the only difference is that actual post-graduate students get two extra assignments... everything else is the same :P. I'll also be taking two extremely brutal mathematical physics courses with one of the most brutal teachers in the department (the person responsible for my previous failed attempts at doing my honours project... I suspect she actually has it in for me since I don't tend to tow the party line, so this isn't likely going to go well for me).

In less doominous news, as announced a few posts back, my friend Lilith has completed her radio training (some of which was on my show, The Dollar Bin). I was to be her first guest (which is pretty spiff) and, in fact, was. Her show now properly shows up on the CKCU web site and you can listen to her shows "on demand" if you don't manage to tune in live. It is a feminist show called Femme Fatale. As she says on the page: Femme Fatale is a feminist radio program that dives into different feminist topics from various perspectives in the hope of breaking pre-conceived sterotypes about who is a feminist and what a feminist topic is. Having fun and titillating discussions with guests and listeners that opens the conversation on topics not talked about anywhere else. While also playing music and ending with an event calendar, Femme Fatale is a feminist radio program with a punch.

Lesseee... I had my 2nd ever "movie afternoon of doom" weekend last weekend (it seems like a month ago already... and a special thanks to kweenbee for helping me get the house ready beforehand!). I played the following flicks to a mostly stunned, occasionally shouting in confusion, sometimes cheering in celebration, and often jeering in amazement hearty few who were able to come. I had announced that the lineup was going to be:

01:00PM – Bubba Ho-Tep (Elvis and JFK battle evil forces at the Shady Rest retirement home)
02:30PM – Akira (a landmark Japanese animated feature portrays a cyberpunk/dystopian future)
04:45PM – Insignificance (a true classic of contemporary cinema, plus Einstein meets Monroe)
06:30PM – Funky Forest (from the trailers I've seen, this is going to be seriously messed up)
09:00PM – The Guy With Secret Kung Fu (great costumes, fights, and locales... but... so bad!)
10:30PM – Deer Woman (John Landis and son doing a bizarre tongue-in-cheek horror movie)
11:30PM – Paprika (Satoshi Kon's animated masterpiece: brilliant, poingant, and beautiful)

I had planned to show Roadkill if anyone was still functional after all that, but decided (wisely) against it, heh. I'll show it at a future one. I also picked up Pontypool recently (which I have not seen) which is by the same director, and which I am told is an excellent movie.

One of the big surprises was how much everybody enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep (I'd seen it before once many years ago)... it's a pretty whack piece of cinema but it has social commentary and is just plain-up unabashedly what it is (starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis). Akira was received pretty much as expected (pretty much universally: "wtf?")... I had not seen it since it came out in the theatres, so it was a real treat for me as well (and it blows me away that it was all hand drawn... mind blowing). Insignificance was the serious movie of the day. I had seen it several times myself and had ordered the Criterion Collection edition of the movie (it had been impossible to find earlier) and had not watched it yet. There are still scenes in the movie that I consider to be some of the most powerful ever captured and I notice new things every time I watch it (at least one person has reported being haunted by it, but in a ponderance way, not a nightmare way). Then there was Funky Forest. One of Beep's friends I think said it best: "how could such a thing possibly even exist?". It was in turns sweet, strange, messed up, all out bizarro, and hilarious... and nobody who saw it will ever be the same again (seriously, it's a one way ticket). I didn't know what to expect (although I had seen the director's previous movie The Taste of Tea and it was a beautifully shot and poingant and twisted and funny movie as well... definitely more art house and less gonzo than Funky Forest), but I will definitely sit and watch it again soon (even though it's two and a half hours long... it didn't feel like it). The Guy With Secret Kung Fu is a classic Hong Kong martial arts period piece movie... I bought it for $1 new from a bin of cheapo movies put out Digiview Entertainment (bought along with bad monster movies and a "documentary" about Area 51... also all for $1 new), presumably because nobody had copyrights on them anymore (or nobody cared). The costumes and settings and fight scenes and much of the acting was beautiful and brilliant, but... the dub was nightmarish, the sound effects during the fights were the sort of thing that is made fun of in spoofs of the genre, and foley work was almost random (jet noises, frog sounds, whip cracking sounds, and dive bombing sounds during the fight scenes... so bad!). It's a family favourite and it's almost as fun to watch the people watching the movie as the movie itself ;). Deer Woman is hilaribad (and intentionally so, fyi)... it's part of the "Masters of Horror" series and was directed by John Landis (American Werewolf in London) and written by his son... but it's more of a dark comedy (and there are many laugh-out-loud moments) than a horror movie. Again, enjoyed by all. So many great one-liners! I should mention that Deer Woman was the movie that finally got me lifetime-banned from picking the movie to watch when friends got together when I lived in North Carolina ;). I was on probation after showing them the film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (made in Ottawa, and looong before the current round of Lincoln and stuff movies, and probably made for 5000 times less money, literally). Oh, as a note, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter will be shown at my next movie night later in August ;). For all the howling they did about those two movies, they borrowed them and never returned them before I moved back to Canada, heh. Finally... Paprika. I'm not even sure I have anything to say except it's really one of the few movies I'd actually recommend to everyone to see (and that's saying quite a bit).

Lastly... a while back, I mentioned I was going to a series of wine tastings that are being run as fundraisers for CKCU. Word got around pretty quick and they sold out of the limited seating very quickly earlier this summer. Again, these are being given by food and wine expert Rod Phillips who is really making the events worth going to. Not only is he witty and great to listen to, he has an amazing breadth and depth of knowledge on the subject (he's an actual professor of alcohol... and he tours the world tasting wines and food professionally... this guy has figured out how to live!). Most importantly, he's not all stuck up and knows how to share his enjoyment with others. For the overall series, he chose four grape varieties that grow consistently well in Ontario's climate (cold with a short growing season), and then features four diverse wines made by Ontario wineries made with that month's featured grape. I've been to two tastings since I last updated on the subject: Gamay on June 27th, and Chardonnay on July 25h (uh huh, I've been too busy to really update, thus the posting of essays and short bits). I'll hold off on the Chardonnays until a future post, but here are my notes on the Gamay...

Firstly, Rod believes that Ontario should declare itself home to Gamay grape wines (no other region lays claim to this title) as it grows consistently well here and is used to produce several excellent wines. Gamay got a bad rap because it actually grew well compared to other grape varieties controlled by certain medieval French aristocratic landholders, and so was banned and ordered torn up by the peasants and middle-class growers of the grape (and not before being seriously badmouthed by the aristocrats in question, I might add). From Wikipedia: In contrast to the Pinot noir variety, Gamay ripened two weeks earlier and was less difficult to cultivate. It also produced a strong, fruitier wine in a much larger abundance. In July 1395, the Duke of Burgundy Philippe the Bold outlawed the cultivation of the grape, referring to it as the "disloyal Gaamez" that in spite of its ability to grow in abundance was full of "very great and horrible harshness", due in part to the variety's occupation of land that could be used for the more "elegant" Pinot Noir. 60 years later, Philippe the Good, issued another edict against Gamay in which he stated the reasoning for the ban is that "The Dukes of Burgundy are known as the lords of the best wines in Christendom. We will maintain our reputation". Jerky jerks ;). It's now grown extensively in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley, and pretty much every cool weather grape region in the world. The first wine we had was Cave Spring from the Niagara Peninsula. I liked it quite a bit and found it spicy, somewhat acidic with a clean taste and short finish, and thought it would make a good wine to have with food. Rod suggested it would go great with stew, ragu, pizza, and pasta. I thought it tasted somewhat Italian in style as well and he said that Italian wines are usually quite acidic because it helps them stand up to tomatoes. I'd never really liked Italian wines, but that's probably because I'd sit down to drink a bottle at it wouldn't be pleasant... I understand now that they are more for having a meal with than having on their own. The second one was Angel's Gate (Niagara Peninsula). I thought this one had a somewhat acetone smell, but it tasted fine. It was definitely drier than the first and had quite a bit of tannin as well. Rod suggested it would be lovely with fruit and crème fraiche, which I agree with. We then moved on to a Château des Charmes (from Niagara-on-the-Lake) which was quite dry and had obviously been oaked quite a bit. I didn't make any other notes on that one... And the last one was Grange of Prince Edward County (from where it says). It was a 2010 (the others were 2011 I think) and I made a single comment for later reference: "weird... fish?". I can't remember exactly why I said that... whether it tasted weird and would go well with fish, or whether it made me think of fish (heh). It's also possible that the wine listed fish as an ingredient because some wineries still use isinglass to clarify wines (because it's not a chemical clarifying agent). I'll have to leave it to your and my imagination with respect to why I wrote that comment :). All the wines were around $12 to $14 a bottle. Overall it was a great experience (again) and I get to do it one more time near the end of August. It also set me to thinking that I would replace soda in my diet (at least for dinner, maybe lunch on the weekends) with wine. Too much pop is one of the issues I have with my diet and moving to something that I would drink much less of would be a huge help to me in reducing my caloric intake (and no, I'm not dieting, but I am trying to eat, and drink, better... I was pretty harsh to my digestive system last year because of all the stress).

I will leave you with a song I'm quite fond of... by Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer:

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